A's sign lefty Okajima to Minor League deal

A's sign lefty Okajima to Minor League deal

PHOENIX -- Hideki Okajima arrived to A's camp right on time Tuesday, making his way into the clubhouse just an hour before pitchers and catchers engaged in their first official workout, after his Minor League deal with the team was made official.

Okajima, a non-roster invite to big league camp, will use the time to turn the offer into a Major League opportunity -- something he wasn't afforded last year with the Yankees after failing a physical, leading to a brief return to Japan.

Back in the United States after posting a 0.94 ERA in 56 appearances for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japan Pacific League, Okajima deemed himself perfectly healthy Tuesday and said he's still befuddled why the Yankees saw an issue with his sound pitching shoulder.

"I'm very happy to be in Oakland," Okajima said through his translator. "My intent was always to come back to America to play baseball."

The 37-year-old reliever joins fellow countryman Hiroyuki Nakajima on the A's, as well as pitching coach Curt Young, with whom he worked in Boston. Okajima racked up plenty of experience while wearing a Red Sox uniform for five seasons, compiling a 3.11 ERA in 261 outings, along with a 2.11 ERA in 17 postseason appearances.

"He knows how to get guys out," Young said. "No matter what situation we put him in, he always did a good job. He loves to throw, and he's healthy, and I know he had a great year last year. He's a veteran, been through a lot of things, so experience is always good."

His resume, it seems, may give him a bit of an edge for a roster spot this spring, despite his deal being of the Minor League kind. There will be no shortage of competition, though, as the A's bullpen -- which posted a 2.94 ERA in 2012 -- returns largely intact, with few jobs to be had.

Okajima joins Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins, Jordan Norberto, Pedro Figueroa and Travis Blackley as the primary left-handers in line for a bullpen job.

"You talk about our depth and this is just another guy," manager Bob Melvin said. "You look at his numbers last year in Japan and they were off the charts. I know he's 37 years old, but there's no sign he has a 37-year-old body or pitching arm at this point. We're excited to have him."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.